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On 100th Day Of Conflict, UN Says Ukraine War 'Must End Now'

UN Assistant Secretary-General and Crisis Coordinator for Ukraine Amin Awad (file photo)
UN Assistant Secretary-General and Crisis Coordinator for Ukraine Amin Awad (file photo)

The United Nations says Russia's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine is a violation of the UN Charter and that the conflict, which is now in its 100th day, "has taken an unacceptable toll" on people.

"This war has and will have no winner. Rather, we have witnessed for 100 days what is lost: lives, homes, jobs and prospects," Amin Awad, the UN's assistant secretary-general and crisis coordinator for Ukraine, said in a statement on June 3.

"This war has taken an unacceptable toll on people and engulfed virtually all aspects of civilian life," Awad added.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on June 2 that Moscow was now in control of 20 percent of Ukrainian territory, including Crimea, illegally annexed by Russia in 2014, and parts of eastern Ukraine that were seized by Russia-backed separatists the same year.

"In just over three months, nearly 14 million Ukrainians have been forced to flee their homes, the majority women and children," the statement said.

The UN said the organization was working to limit the war's "devastating impact on food security by seeking to unblock critical grain and commodity trade."

Food prices have surged because of a drop in grain exports from Ukraine -- one of the world's top producers.

"Our tireless efforts to respond to the war’s devastating impact will continue, robustly and stead-fast," the statement said.

"But above all we need peace. The war must end now."

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No Afghan 'Reintegration' Without Progress On Rights, Says UN

Afghan women on June 10 protest against the Taliban's upcoming participation in a UN conference in Doha.
Afghan women on June 10 protest against the Taliban's upcoming participation in a UN conference in Doha.

Restrictions on women's rights continue to prevent Afghanistan's "reintegration" into the international community, a senior UN official said on June 21, adding that the Taliban's participation in talks in Doha on June 30-July 1 is not legitimization of the isolated hard-liners' government. Since their 2021 return to power, Taliban authorities have not been formally recognized by any nation and apply a rigorous interpretation of Islam, leading to suppression of women's freedoms that the UN has described as gender apartheid. Restrictions on women and girls, particularly in education, "deprive the country of vital human capital" and lead to a brain drain that undermines the impoverished country's future, Roza Otunbayeva, head of the UN mission in the country, UNAMA, told the Security Council.

U.S. Sanctions Senior Kaspersky Officials Day After Setting Plans To Bar Antivirus Sales

The United States has sanctioned top leaders of Kaspersky Labs, which it says is under the "control" and "direction" of the Russian government.
The United States has sanctioned top leaders of Kaspersky Labs, which it says is under the "control" and "direction" of the Russian government.

The United States imposed sanctions on 12 members of the Kaspersky Lab leadership team on June 21, a day after announcing plans to bar sales of antivirus software made by the Russian firm, citing cybersecurity risks. The U.S. Treasury targeted the company’s chief operating officer, Andrei Tikhonov, although the chief executive and the company itself weren’t directly sanctioned. The action "underscores our commitment to ensure the integrity of our cyber domain and to protect our citizens against malicious cyber threats," the Treasury said. A State Department statement said the company is “subject to jurisdiction, control, or direction of the Russian government, which could exploit the privileged access to obtain sensitive data." Kaspersky denied it is a threat to U.S. security.

Zelenskiy Hails Ukraine's Soccer Victory, Draws Parallels To War Effort

The Ukrainian soccer team poses before its June 21 victory over Slovakia in a Euro 2024 match.
The Ukrainian soccer team poses before its June 21 victory over Slovakia in a Euro 2024 match.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on June 21 congratulated the country's national soccer team's victory over Slovakia at the Euro 2024 championships in Germany, drawing parallels to the country's fight against Russia's full-scale invasion. "Believe in each other! Support each other! Fight for each other! This is what should unite each of us. And now each of us in his place must fight: for freedom, life, and for the correct perception of Ukraine in the world," he wrote on Telegram. "This is exactly what the Ukrainian national team is doing today. Keep it up, men!" he added following the team’s 2-1 win, it's first of the tournament, over Slovakia in Dusseldorf.

Blinken Condemns Steps By Russia, North Korea To Deepen Military Ties

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken condemned moves this week by Russian President Vladimir Putin with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to deepen military cooperation. (file photo)
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken condemned moves this week by Russian President Vladimir Putin with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to deepen military cooperation. (file photo)

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken condemned deepening military cooperation between the North Korea and Russia, including the transfer of arms in violation of multiple UN Security Council resolutions, the State Department said on June 21. In a call with South Korean Foreign Minister Cho Tae-yul, the top U.S. diplomat also reaffirmed the vital importance of the "ironclad" U.S.-South Korea alliance in "promoting peace, security, and prosperity around the world," spokesman Matthew Miller said in a statement. Blinken also thanked the South Korean minister for his country’s continued support for Ukraine. Russian President Vladimir Putin with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un this week signed a defense deal during Putin's visit to Pyongyang.

Orban Adopts 'MEGA' Trump-Like Motto For Hungary's EU Presidency

A Fidesz party supporter wears a T-shirt with a portrait of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban during the EU elections in Budapest on June 9.
A Fidesz party supporter wears a T-shirt with a portrait of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban during the EU elections in Budapest on June 9.

Hungary, led by the Donald Trump-friendly Prime Minister Viktor Orban, has announced a new motto for when it takes over the European Union's rotating presidency next month: "Make Europe Great Again."

The decision by Budapest to use the motto that emulates Trump's "Make America Great Again" slogan, has been met with incredulity among EU officials, who see it, as one told RFE/RL, as "jaw-dropping."

"We know them, and we are not stupid, so we see it for what it is: trolling, by lack of any substantive policy," said another diplomatic source from a Western EU nation.

In announcing the slogan, the Hungarian presidency made no mention of Trump or the motto emblazoned on the red hats of almost every one of his supporters, saying it was inspired by the "world-famous Hungarian invention, the Rubik's cube," a puzzle created by Erno Rubik half a century ago.

But Trump and Orban enjoy a close political relationship that both have played up over the years.

In March, the Hungarian politician known for his populist, right-wing views visited Trump at his Mar-a-Lago U.S. compound where the former president said there's "no better leader" than Orban.

Countries are allowed to adopt a slogan for their EU presidency -- Hungary officially takes its seat on July 1 -- and they rarely consult with the other 26 EU member states if they do.

One official from the European Parliament admitted to RFE/RL that "everyone was first shocked. We thought it was a joke but then everyone said the same: classic Orban."

"Classic Orban" has come to mean a thorn in the side of Brussels in recent years.

Orban, who has governed Hungary with a parliamentary supermajority since 2010, has angered many leaders in the EU with perceived attacks on democracy and the bloc's founding principles and inclusivity, his opposition to sanctions on Russia and military aid for Ukraine, and his close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

His Fidesz party campaigned heavily during European parliamentary elections earlier this month on Hungarians' fears of being drawn into the war in neighboring Ukraine.

Fidesz won 11 of Hungary's 21 European Parliament seats, but that is one fewer than it previously held as Peter Magyar, a former Orban loyalist mounted a more EU-friendly challenge with a new party, Respect and Freedom (Tisza), that took seven seats.

These days the EU presidency is largely symbolic. Since 2009 there is a permanent President of the European Council, currently held by the Belgian Charles Michel, who chairs the important EU summits of leaders.

Officials from the presidency holder are essentially tasked with chairing ministerial meetings and diplomatic working groups in Brussels.

While a country often tries to add a certain "accent" to its presidency by pushing a particular political file, the main task tends to be one of an honest broker, trying to forge compromises between EU member states.

Many diplomats have said they doubt Budapest will be able to impact policy too much since the agenda for the second half of 2024 will be dominated by filling the bloc's tops jobs and getting a new European Commission, the EU's executive body, in place by the end of the year.

One official told RFE/RL that while the Hungarian motto "is of course provocative...luckily, Hungary doesn't have the influence in the EU that Orban thinks and wants."

Former Chairman Of Tajik Parliament Reportedly Detained Amid Arrests

Akbarshoh Iskandarov was summoned to the Prosecutor-General's Office for questioning on June 13 and 14 and has been held in custody since the second visit. (file photo)
Akbarshoh Iskandarov was summoned to the Prosecutor-General's Office for questioning on June 13 and 14 and has been held in custody since the second visit. (file photo)

DUSHANBE -- The former chairman of Tajikistan's parliament, which was known as the Supreme Council until the early 1990s, has reportedly been detained on unspecified charges.

Several sources told RFE/RL on June 21 that Akbarshoh Iskandarov was summoned to the Prosecutor-General's Office for questioning on June 13 and 14 and has been held in custody since the second visit.

They added that about 50 people in total were summoned to the Prosecutor-General's Office at the time, all of whom were released but ordered not to leave Dushanbe.

Neither Tajik officials nor Iskandarov's relatives would comment on the situation.

The 73-year-old veteran politician briefly served as the acting president of the Central Asian nation in the wake of uprisings in the early 1990s that led to a devastating five-year civil war that started in 1992.

Recently, Iskandarov worked at the Tajik Science Academy's Institute of Philosophy, Political Sciences, and Law.

In the past, he served as Tajikistan's ambassador to Kazakhstan, Mongolia, and Turkmenistan.

RFE/RL's Tajik Service sent an official query to the Prosecutor-General's Office asking for comments regarding the case but did not receive a response.

A day earlier, several other sources told RFE/RL that Tajik authorities had detained former Foreign Minister Hamrohkhon Zarifi on unspecified charges last week.

One source close to law enforcement said Zarifi was suspected of financial crimes related to the construction of the Foreign Ministry's new building.

Zarifi served as the tightly controlled former Soviet republic’s foreign minister from 2006 to 2013. From 2015 until his retirement in 2018, Zarifi served as Tajikistan's ambassador to Japan.

Last week, investigators also arrested lawmaker Saidjafar Usmonzoda on a charge of "usurping power." No further explanation of the charge was given, and it remains unclear if the arrests are linked.

On June 14, Tajik Prosecutor-General Yusuf Rahmon publicly said that "Usmonzoda and other individuals" are suspected of attempted power seizure.

Rahmon did not specify who the "others" were.

Russia-Friendly Radev To Co-Lead Bulgaria At NATO Summit In Washington

President Rumen Radev, who has opposed military aid to Ukraine, will represent Bulgaria at the NATO summit in Washington on July 9-11. (file photo)
President Rumen Radev, who has opposed military aid to Ukraine, will represent Bulgaria at the NATO summit in Washington on July 9-11. (file photo)

SOFIA -- Caretaker Prime Minister Dimitar Glavchev and Russia-friendly President Rumen Radev will jointly represent Bulgaria at the NATO summit in Washington next month that is likely to discuss plans for further aid to Ukraine in its fight against the Kremlin's forces.

The announcement appears to be somewhat of an awkward compromise of a dispute between Bulgaria's Council of Ministers and the presidency just ahead of the June 21 deadline for delegations to register for the July 9-11 NATO gathering.

As a parliamentary republic, Bulgaria traditionally would be represented by the head of government, the prime minister.

However, Glavchev, serving in a caretaker role, asked parliament to decide whether he or the president should go to the summit.

The parliament, led Boyko Borisov's GERB party, declined to make a decision in the dispute, leading Glavchev to announced that both will attend.

"It was decided that the National Assembly will not take a position. Glavchev should decide for himself what he intends to do -- whether he should go, whether the president should go," said Tsoncho Ganev, deputy chairman of the parliament, according to BTA.

Radev has long taken what critics say is a Kremlin-friendly position following Russia’s February 2022 full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

He has argued that sending military aid to Kyiv only prolongs the conflict and that those supporting further aid to Ukraine are "warmongering."

Radev's attendance was supported by the pro-Russia Socialist and Revival parties.

The president's backers say Radev, as commander-in-chief of the military, should represent Bulgaria at a NATO summit, while opponents say that role is only effective during time of war.

Delyan Peevski, head of the liberal Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS) party, said Glavchev should represent Bulgaria to prevent Radev from pressing any pro-Russia positions at the summit.

"Radev should not be allowed to use this highest NATO forum to spread Russian propaganda and instill fear in Bulgarian society, which we have witnessed in scandalous cases," said Peevski, who has been sanctioned by the United States and Britain for alleged corruption but positions himself as a guarantor of "Bulgaria's unwavering value of belonging to Euro-Atlanticism."

Former Prime Minister Nikolay Denkov of the reformist We Continue the Change-Democratic Bulgaria coalition, also called for Glavchev to represent the country at the summit.

Russian Blogger Fined After Being Detained Before Putin Visit To Siberia

Russian President Vladimir Putin in Yakutsk on June 18.
Russian President Vladimir Putin in Yakutsk on June 18.

A court in Russia's Sakha-Yakutia region in Siberia fined blogger Pyotr Shepelev 10,000 rubles ($117) on June 21 for taking part in an unsanctioned rally in January. Shepelev was detained three days earlier, hours before a visit to the regional capital, Yakutsk, by President Vladimir Putin. Shepelev's lawyer said his client faced five administrative charges related to disobeying police orders and participating in unsanctioned rallies. It is not clear if the court's ruling was related to all or some charges against the blogger. Hours before his detention, Shepelev said two people appeared to be surveying his apartment block. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Siberia.Realities, click here.

Armenia Becomes Latest Country To Recognize Palestinian Statehood

The Armenian Foreign Ministry said on June 21 that Yerevan supports a UN resolution on an immediate cease-fire in Gaza. (file photo)
The Armenian Foreign Ministry said on June 21 that Yerevan supports a UN resolution on an immediate cease-fire in Gaza. (file photo)

Armenia has recognized Palestinian statehood, the latest country to do so amid a backlash to an ongoing Israeli offensive in Gaza that has claimed thousands of civilian victims. Yerevan supports a UN resolution on an immediate cease-fire in Gaza and is in favor of a two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the Armenian Foreign Ministry said in a statement on June 21. Several Western countries have recognized a Palestinian state since the start of Israel's offensive after an October attack by fighters from Hamas -- designated a terrorist organization by the U.S. and EU -- on southern Israel that killed some 1,200 people and resulted in about 250 being taken hostage. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Armenian Service, click here.

Kyrgyz Activist Gets 10 Years In Prison On Hostage-Taking Charge

Kyrgyz activist Alga Kylychev (file photo)
Kyrgyz activist Alga Kylychev (file photo)

BISHKEK -- A court in Bishkek has sentenced Kyrgyz activist and Social Democratic Party member Alga Kylychev to 10 years in prison on a charge of hostage-taking, which he vehemently denies, calling it politically motivated.

Bailiffs immediately arrested Kylychev after a judge at the Alamudun district court in the northern Chui region pronounced the ruling on June 21.

The charge against Kylychev stems from 2019 events in a Bishkek suburb, where former President Almazbek Atambaev and his supporters clashed with law enforcement officers at Atambaev's Koi-Tash compound.

The violence broke out after the former president refused to obey three summons to appear at the Interior Ministry for questioning about the 2013 release of notorious crime boss Aziz Batukaev.

Kylychev told RFE/RL after he was arrested that none of the prosecutors' witnesses confirmed that he was in the Koi-Tash compound during the deadly clashes.

"I consider it as a political ruling," Kylychev said, adding that if his life is in danger while he is in custody, the authorities should be held responsible for that.

According to Kylychev, his incarceration is retaliation by authorities for his refusal to take part in the "illegal exoneration" of another former president, Kurmanbek Bakiev, who fled the country in 2010 following deadly anti-government protests and was sentenced to life in absentia in 2014.

The standoff between security forces and Atambaev's supporters in 2019 resulted in the death of a senior security officer and more than 170 injuries -- 79 of them sustained by law enforcement officers.

Authorities launched a probe into the deadly standoff and charged Atambaev and 13 of his supporters with murder, attempted murder, threatening or assaulting representatives of the authorities, hostage-taking, and the forcible seizure of power.

In 2020, Atambaev was sentenced to 11 years in prison for his role in the illegal release of Batukaev.

In February last year, Atambaev was released due to his deteriorated health and allowed to travel to Spain to receive treatment. He has not returned.

EU To Open Accession Negotiations With Ukraine, Moldova On June 25

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy (left) and Moldovan President Maia Sandu (file photo)
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy (left) and Moldovan President Maia Sandu (file photo)

The European Union will start accession talks with Ukraine and Moldova next week, the EU's Belgian presidency announced on June 21, a move that will mark a watershed moment for the two countries' aspirations to eventually join the bloc.

"The EU Council adopted the general EU positions, including negotiating frameworks, for accession negotiations with Ukraine and Moldova, it said in a message on X, adding, "This opens the way for launching the negotiations on Tuesday, June 25, in Luxembourg.

The EU Council groups representatives of the governments of the 27 states that make up the bloc.

The official opening of the negotiations with Ukraine will take place first, at 3:30 p.m., followed by Moldova at 6 p.m., the message said.

The announcement comes two weeks after the European Commission, the bloc's executive arm, recommended opening the process, saying the two countries are sufficiently prepared to engage in negotiations with the EU -- an arduous journey that could take years.

Ukraine and Moldova submitted their candidacies shortly after the start of Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine and obtained candidate status in June 2022, gaining the conditional green-light for the start of negotiations in December.

Shortly after the announcement by the Belgian EU presidency, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy hailed the move, saying on X that he was "grateful" for the bloc's "robust political will."

"Millions of Ukrainians, and indeed generations of our people, are realizing their European dream. Ukraine is returning to Europe, where it has belonged for centuries, as a full-fledged member of the European community," he said, while also hailing Moldova's inclusion in the accession talks.

Moldovan President Maia Sandu said on X that she had signed the document that envisaged the opening of membership talks with the bloc.

Shortly after the announcement by the Belgian EU presidency, Moldovan President Maia Sandu said on X that she had signed the document that envisaged the opening of membership talks with the bloc.

"Today, I signed the Decree on initiating Moldova's EU accession negotiations. Becoming an EU member is our path to peace, prosperity, and a better life for all citizens," Sandu wrote.

"Wishing our delegation every success as they officially launch negotiations in Luxembourg next week."

Pro-Western Sandu, under whom Moldova made an abrupt U-turn from Russia to Europe, is up for reelection later this year after handing an upset defeat to Moscow-backed incumbent Igor Dodon in 2020.

With Sandu at the helm, neutral Moldova also strongly condemned Russia's invasion of Ukraine, firmly aligning itself with Kyiv while tightening its ties with its Western neighbor, EU and NATO member Romania, with whom Moldova shares a common language and history.

Sandu has said Moscow plans to undermine the former Soviet republic's stability and throw it off its path toward European integration ahead of the presidential elections and a referendum on membership in the European Union scheduled simultaneously in the fall.

In reaction to Brussel's announcement, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on June 21 that pursuing EU integration was a sovereign matter for Chisinau, but said there were "many Moldovans" who also desired close ties to Russia.

Updated

Kazakh Nationals Identified As Suspects In Shooting Of Kazakh Opposition Activist In Kyiv

Kazakh oppositionist Aidos Sadyqov (file photo)
Kazakh oppositionist Aidos Sadyqov (file photo)

Ukraine's National Police said on June 21 that two Kazakh nationals are suspected of shooting a noted Kazakh opposition activist and journalist Aidos Sadyqov in Kyiv earlier this week.

According to a statement from the National Police, the suspected attackers are Altai Zhaqanbaev, born in 1988, and Meiram Qarataev, born in 1991. The two suspects were added to the international wanted list, with a Kyiv court issuing arrest warrants for them.

The statement added that investigators found Zhaqanbaev and Qarataev arrived in Ukraine on June 2 from Poland. They rented an apartment and bought a car in Kyiv, after which they surveyed Sadyqov's everyday routine.

"On June 18, one of the suspects approached [Sadyqov's] car and shot him, while his accomplice was near the building to act as a lookout. After that they fled the crime scene," the statement said, adding that the two suspects then left Ukrainian territory via the Ukrainian-Moldovan border.

Investigations are underway to find out who ordered the attempt on Sadyqov's life.

Sadyqov, an outspoken critic of Kazakh President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev and his government, is currently in intensive care fighting for his life.

His wife Natalya Sadyqova, who is also a journalist, was in the vehicle during the attack but was unharmed.

Sadyqova said in a video statement on YouTube on June 21 that one of the suspects, Qarataev, is a police officer serving in Kazakhstan's northern Qostanai region.

The Kazakh Interior Ministry issued a statement right after Sadyqova's YouTube video was published, saying that "Qarataev was dismissed from the organs attached to the ministry in January 2019 and currently is not a police officer."

Wife Of Kazakh Journalist Says Husband In 'Grave Condition' After Shooting
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Earlier on June 19, Sadyqova told RFE/RL that, hours before the attack, she and her husband had issued a new video titled Toqaev Is Putin's Puppet on their YouTube channel.

The video criticizes Toqaev's "pro-Russian politics" and looks at the activities of Russian oligarchs and agents of influence in Kazakhstan, some of whom obtained Kazakh citizenship after Russia launched its ongoing invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

She added that Toqaev stands to be a beneficiary of the shooting "because the Kazakh opposition has been fully cleansed." She did not present any evidence that connected the president in any way to the shooting.

Toqaev's spokesman Berik Uali said on June 21 that the Kazakh president "had ordered law enforcement entities to find the two suspects' whereabouts and undertake corresponding measures."

"Kazakhstan's side is ready to cooperate with Ukraine's law enforcement structures, including via Interpol," Uali said.

The Sadyqovs, along with their children, moved to Kyiv in 2014 after Kazakh authorities launched a case against Natalya, who worked as a journalist for the independent Respublika newspaper at the time. She was accused of slander.

Sadyqov used to lead a branch of the opposition Azat Social Democratic Party in his native Aqtobe region in Kazakhstan's northwest until 2010.

He later headed a group that was a major force for establishing a union to defend the rights of Kazakh workers at the Chinese-owned CNPC-Aktobemunaygaz oil company.

South Korea Summons Russian Envoy Over Defense Deal With Pyongyang

Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un shake hands in Pyongyang on June 19.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un shake hands in Pyongyang on June 19.

Russia's Ambassador to Seoul, Georgy Zinoviev, was summoned to the South Korean Foreign Ministry on June 21 to protest a defense deal signed earlier this week by Russian President Vladimir Putin with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Putin and Kim signed a "comprehensive strategic partnership" on June 19 during the Russian president's first visit in 24 years to the secretive Stalinist state, South Korea's archfoe.

Though full details of the deal are not known, the agreement calls for mutual assistance in the event of an attack by a third country and is intended to take cooperation between the two states to a new level.

First Vice Foreign Minister Kim Hong-kyun delivered Seoul's position on the pact and military cooperation between Russia and North Korea to Zinoviev, the Foreign Ministry said.

Kim urged Russia to "act responsibly," telling Zinoviev that Moscow's pledge of military aid for the North endangers Seoul's security.

He told Zinoviev that the move would have "negative impact" on relations between Russia and South Korea, the ministry said, adding that the Russian diplomat had promised to convey Seoul's message to Moscow.

In response, Zinoviev "emphasized that threats and attempts to intimidate the Russian Federation are unacceptable. The ambassador said that cooperation between Russia and North Korea is not aimed at third countries," the Russian Embassy in Seoul said in a post on X.

Putin has said Russia does not rule out military and technical cooperation with Pyongyang, or supplying it with weapons, moves that would violate UN sanctions against North Korea.

The office of South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol has condemned the deal as a threat to national security in violation of UN Security Council resolutions.

Seoul also said that, in response, it would consider sending weapons to Ukraine, which Putin said would be a "big mistake."

The White House said the North Korea-Russia pact is unsurprising and a sign of Russia's desperation.

In a phone call on June 20 with South Korea's Foreign Minister Cho Tae-yul, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken condemned the deal and said that Washington supports Seoul's responses to the security threat prompted by the treaty, the Foreign Ministry in Seoul said in a statement.

With reporting by AP, Reuters, and Yonhap

Several Dead In Russian Strikes On Ukraine; Kyiv Launches Counterattacks

Ukrainian soldiers fire a mortar toward Russian positions from the front line towards Russian positions in the Donetsk region.
Ukrainian soldiers fire a mortar toward Russian positions from the front line towards Russian positions in the Donetsk region.

At least six people were killed in Russian shelling and missile strikes on Ukrainian targets as Moscow claimed Kyiv had launched a "mass" drone attack on occupied Crimea and several regions inside Russia.

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

RFE/RL's Live Briefing gives you all of the latest developments on Russia's full-scale invasion, Kyiv's counteroffensive, Western military aid, global reaction, and the plight of civilians. For all of RFE/RL's coverage of the war in Ukraine, click here.

Five civilians were killed and 11 others were wounded by Russian shelling of civilian areas in Donetsk, which was targeted 22 times over the past 24 hours, the head of the regional military administration, Vadym Filashkin, reported on June 21. Private houses, nonresidential buildings, and an industrial facility were damaged by the shelling, Filashkin added.

In the southern region of Kherson, one person was killed and one was wounded by Russian shelling and air strikes from across the Dnieper River, regional Governor Oleksandr Prokudin reported.

A total of 15 settlements were struck in the region, including the regional capital, Kherson, Prokudin said, adding that a number of private houses were destroyed by the shelling.

The northeastern region of Kharkiv, which has been under constant Russian fire for the past several months, was again struck overnight and one person was wounded, regional Governor Oleh Synyehubov said.

The regions of Dnipropetrovsk, Zaporizhzhya, and Sumy also came under attack, local officials reported.

Russia's Defense Ministry, meanwhile, said that its air defense systems shot down 114 Ukrainian drones over occupied Crimea and the Russian regions of Krasnodar, Bryansk, and Volgograd in what it said was a "massive" attack early on June 21 that killed one person and wounded four others.

The Ilsky oil refinery in the Seversk district of Krasnodar was hit by falling debris that ignited a fire which was put out by firemen, regional Governor Veniamin Kondratyev said on Telegram.

Drone debris also fell near a bus station in Krasnodar, hitting a boiler installation and killing an employee, Kondratyev added.

The ministry also said its forces repelled a drone attack on a military airfield in Yeisk, in the Krasnodar region, adding that local authorities reported no damage or casualties. However, the Crimean WindTelegram channel said several fires could be seen at the airfield in Yeisk, which is located by the Sea of Azov, some 35 kilometers from the Ukrainian shore.

Ukraine's General Staff, meanwhile, reported that over the past two nights, its forces "successfully hit" a number of objects in Russia and occupied Crimea, including oil refineries, radar stations, and drone storage sites.

4 Killed In Helicopter Crash In Russia's Far East

Four people died in a helicopter crash in the Amur region in Russia's Far East, authorities reported on June 21. Russia's Investigative Committee for Transport said the helicopter took off on June 20 from a timber processing plant in Amur, heading in the direction of the Dzheltula River before disappearing. Telegram channel 112 reported that the wreckage of the helicopter was found in the taiga on June 21 after a search that lasted for more than one day, adding that the pilot and three passengers died in the crash. Authorities have opened an investigation into the causes of the incident. To read the original story by Current Time, click here.

Vucic, Kurti To Meet On June 26 In EU-Mediated Talks On Normalizing Relations

Kosovar Prime Minister Albin Kurti and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic (file photo)
Kosovar Prime Minister Albin Kurti and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic (file photo)

Kosovar Prime Minister Albin Kurti and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic will meet in Brussels on June 26 to conduct a new round of the EU-mediated dialogue on normalization of relations. EU spokesman Peter Stano and the government of Kosovo confirmed the meeting on June 20. Kurti's office told RFE/RL that the focus of the meeting will be the implementation of the agreement on the road to normalization of relations. The European Union has not yet released details on the agenda of the meeting. The summit will be mediated by EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell and special envoy for the dialogue, Miroslav Lajcak. The talks were agreed during Lajcak's visits to Kosovo and Serbia this week. To read the full story on RFE/RL Balkan Service, click here.

Bomb Attached To Tree Detonates Remotely, Killing 2 In Suspected Organized Crime Hit In Montenegro

Two people were killed in an explosion in Montenegro on June 20 that authorities believe was an attack carried out by one organized crime group against another.
Two people were killed in an explosion in Montenegro on June 20 that authorities believe was an attack carried out by one organized crime group against another.

Two people were killed and three injured in the town of Cetinje in Montenegro when an explosive device attached high in a tree was remotely detonated, police said on June 20.

The director of the Montenegrin police, Aleksandar Radovic, confirmed that the two deceased men, Petar Kaluđerovic and Dragan Roganovic, were members of organized criminal groups.

Radovic's deputy, Lazar Scepanovic, told reporters the attackers had monitored the victims' habits and knew they used armored cars.

The improvised explosive device used in the attack was placed 7 meters up in the tree, Scepanovic said. It targeted four people as they entered a sports center, he said.

Kaluderovic died at the scene, while Roganovic passed away in the hospital.

The injured are Tanasije Taso Jovanovic and Mihajlo Borozan, who were with Kaluderovic and Roganovic, and a passerby, Desanka Vujovic. All three injured men were transported to a hospital in Montenegro where they were treated for their injuries and their lives were not in danger.

Scepanovic said the attack is believed to be retaliation by a rival criminal group.

Radovic said the police had "intelligence that this could happen“ and "unfortunately, it came true."

He said the fight against organized crime is not easy, but the state will prevail, not crime.

State prosecutor Danka Ivanovic Deric said evidence had been collected at the site of the attack and police officers, forensic experts, and an explosives expert conducted the investigation.

The two men who were killed were known by the police force. Kaluderovic, 20, was arrested in April along with three others, including Borozan, on suspicion of illegal possession of weapons and explosive devices.

The police department said its officers had searched several properties in Cetinje "used by members of organized criminal groups and persons of security interest, and related individuals." At the time, the investigative judge ordered their detention but it was not clear why they were no longer in jail.

The other man killed in the explosion, Roganovic, was injured in December 2017 in Cetinje when he was shot while exiting a car. Roganovic had been the bodyguard of gang member Goran Radoman, who was killed in Belgrade in February 2015.

Radoman was one of the first victims in the war between rival gangs that have been operating in Montenegro for years. The clashes started in 2014 when around 250 kilograms of cocaine disappeared in Valencia.

The total number of murders in mafia clashes in Serbia and Montenegro since 2012 is 193, according to data from the Black Book, a joint project of the investigative network KRIK and RFE/RL.

U.S. Bans Sales Of Kaspersky Software Over Russia Ties

Moscow's influence over the company was found to pose a significant risk. (file photo)
Moscow's influence over the company was found to pose a significant risk. (file photo)

The United States on June 20 announced plans to bar the sale of antivirus software made by Russia's Kaspersky Lab in the United States, citing the firm's large U.S. customers, including critical infrastructure providers, and state and local governments. Moscow's influence over the company was found to pose a significant risk, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said on a call with reporters. Raimondo said Russia has shown it has the capacity and the intent to exploit Russian companies like Kaspersky "to collect and weaponize the personal information of Americans and that is why we are compelled to take the action that we are taking today."

Mob In Pakistan Drags Burning Body Of 'Blasphemer' Through Streets In Swat Valley

A scene in Madian, Pakistan, after a mob beat a man accused of blasphemy was beaten to death and his body set on fire on June 20.
A scene in Madian, Pakistan, after a mob beat a man accused of blasphemy was beaten to death and his body set on fire on June 20.

A Pakistani man who was visiting the country's Swat Valley as a tourist on June 20 was beaten to death and his body set on fire by an angry mob after he was accused of blasphemy.

The mob severely beat the man, identified as a resident of Punjab Province, and dragged his burning naked body through the streets, according to reports about the incident and authorities who spoke with RFE/RL.

Swat police chief Zahid Ullah said police officers initially rescued the man from the people who attacked him and sheltered him at a police station in Madian.

According to a local journalist in Madian, the mob broke down the gate of the police station and entered the building. They then poured gasoline on the man and set him on fire before dragging his lifeless body as they continued to beat him.

The rioters also burned three police cars and set fire to the police station, the journalist said.

The incident started when a number of people accused the man of having burned pages of the Koran in his bag and started a fight with him.

When it was announced through mosque loudspeakers that a "blasphemer" had been rescued by police, a crowd converged on the police station.

Local residents said police officers opened fired on the crowd and 11 people were injured. Police have not commented on the accusation.

Residents and health authorities said three injured people have been taken to the hospital.

The situation in and around Madian is reportedly tense. Authorities have invoked their power under Section 144 of Pakistani law to restrict people's movement and can shoot anyone who disobeys.

Swat Valley, nicknamed the Switzerland of Pakistan, is frequently visited by tourists from all over the country. It is especially popular in the summer season, when people go there to escape high temperatures.

Putin Calls For 'New Security Architecture' For Asia On Visit To Vietnam

Vietnamese President To Lam shakes hands with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Hanoi on June 20.
Vietnamese President To Lam shakes hands with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Hanoi on June 20.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said on June 20 that it is time for a "new security architecture" for Asia as he wrapped up a short visit to Vietnam.

Putin signed 11 public agreements and memorandums of understanding with Vietnamese President To Lam while in Hanoi. Lam said he and Putin made other deals that are not publicly available.

The agreements centered on energy, education, science, and technology -- sectors the United States and other countries have targeted when sanctioning Russia over its invasion of Ukraine.

The two countries also agreed to work on a roadmap for a nuclear science and technology center in Vietnam.

Russia's TASS news agency quoted Putin as saying, "We are firmly committed to deepening the comprehensive strategic partnership with Vietnam, which remains among the priorities of Russia’s foreign policy."

Lam said Putin has contributed to global "peace, stability, and development." Vietnam has remained neutral on Russia's invasion of Ukraine, and this marked Putin's first trip to Vietnam since 2017.

In Vietnam, Putin also met with Communist Party General-Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong and Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh, according to the official Vietnam News Agency.

The United States has been working to strengthen and build partnerships in the Indo-Pacific region, including with Vietnam.

Prior to Putin's visit, a U.S. Embassy spokesperson in Vietnam said "no country should give Putin a platform to promote his war of aggression and otherwise allow him to normalize his atrocities."

The U.S. State Department announced on June 20 it will send Assistant Secretary of State and former ambassador to Vietnam Daniel Kritenbrink to Hanoi this week.

Putin kicked off his four-day trip to Asia in North Korea on June 17.

Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un signed a robust defense pact in Pyongyang. The pact was described as a comprehensive strategic partnership and ensures mutual assistance in the event of an attack by a third country.

Speaking in Hanoi on June 20, Putin also said he "does not rule out" sending weapons to North Korea.

The White House said the North Korea-Russia pact is unsurprising and a sign of Russia's desperation.

South Korea responded with a statement that Seoul would consider sending weapons to Ukraine, which Putin said would be a "big mistake."

Putin also said Russia is thinking about changing its nuclear doctrine, which states Russia may use nuclear weapons in response to a nuclear attack or in the event of a conventional attack that poses an existential threat to the state.

But he said there was no need for Russia to carry out a preemptive nuclear strike.

Pentagon spokesman Air Force Major-General Pat Ryder, responding to Putin's comments on its nuclear doctrine, said, "It's certainly irresponsible for countries that maintain these capabilities to make those types of comments."

With reporting by AP, AFP, and Reuters

Tsikhanouskaya's Adviser Vyachorka Sentenced To 20 Years In Absentia

Franak Vyachorka, an adviser to exiled Belarusian opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, was sentenced to 20 years on multiple charges. (file photo))
Franak Vyachorka, an adviser to exiled Belarusian opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, was sentenced to 20 years on multiple charges. (file photo))

The Minsk City Court on June 20 sentenced an adviser to exiled Belarusian opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya to 20 years on multiple charges. Franak Vyachorka was sentenced in absentia for charges including conspiracy to seize power, organization of mass disorders, creation of an extremist group, and defamation of the country's authoritarian ruler, Alyaksandr Lukashenka. The Belarusian Prosecutor-General's Office said the court also ordered Vyachorka to pay a fine of 60,000 rubles ($18,340). Vyachorka, who resides abroad, wrote on Facebook that the court rejected his request to take part in the trial over a video link. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Belarus Service, click here.

Updated

U.S. To 'Reprioritize' Missile Sales To Speed Ukraine Deliveries

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy stands in front of a Patriot air-defense missile launcher in eastern Germany on June 11.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy stands in front of a Patriot air-defense missile launcher in eastern Germany on June 11.

WASHINGTON -- The United States will "reprioritize" planned deliveries of Patriot air-defense missiles to get them to Ukraine faster, White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said on June 20 as Washington works to fill Kyiv's "desperate need" for more air-defense capabilities.

The decision means that the deliveries of "missiles rolling off the production line" will go to Ukraine and other countries will have to wait for missiles they ordered.

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"This will ensure that we'll be able to provide Ukraine with the missiles they need to maintain their stockpiles at a key moment in the war," Kirby said, describing the decision as "difficult but necessary."

The decision also affects missiles used in the National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile Systems (NASAMS) as well as missiles used in the Patriot systems, Kirby said, stressing that only missiles are involved in the decision.

The other components -- radar systems and launchers -- currently are not available, Kirby said.

"Right now, we just don't have eligible systems coming off the production line. So, it was something we looked at. But right now, the focus is really going to be on the missiles themselves."

U.S. defense contractor RTX, formerly Raytheon, makes the radar systems and launchers for both the Patriot and the NASAMS. The missiles for the two systems are made by Raytheon and other companies.

Mark Cancian, an analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a Washington think tank, told RFE/RL recently that it could take as long as two years to produce a new Patriot system.

Kirby said the first shipments headed to Ukraine will happen before the end of the summer. The total deliveries will cover an estimated 16 months of Ukraine's needs. He declined to say which countries agreed to reprioritize deliveries, though he said the decision will not have an impact on missile deliveries to Taiwan.

Kirby's comments came after Russia attacked Ukraine with missiles and drones overnight, damaging energy infrastructure and prompting more power blackouts. Ukraine's national power company, Ukrenerho, said on June 20 that four regions were targeted in the attacks.

Ukraine's largest private energy company, DTEK, said it was the seventh mass attack on the company's thermal power plant in the last three months. The latest wave of Russian strikes has also increased the number of scheduled power outages for domestic consumers, Ukrenerho said.

The Ukrainian Finance Ministry recently cut its outlook for economic expansion this year due to the energy shortage caused by Russian attacks on Ukraine's energy infrastructure. Western nations last week announced a $50 billion loan for Ukraine, part of which will go toward helping rebuild the nation's energy system.

Germany Blasted For Considering Deportations Of Afghans, Syrians

The stabbing death of a police officer in late May prompted calls for Germany to reconsider its ban against deportations to Taliban-run Afghanistan.
The stabbing death of a police officer in late May prompted calls for Germany to reconsider its ban against deportations to Taliban-run Afghanistan.

A push for Germany to consider the viability of using third countries to deport Afghan and Syrian refugees and process asylum seekers is meeting stiff resistance from rights groups and advocates.

The issue was a major topic of discussion in talks between Chancellor Olaf Scholz and the leaders of Germany's 16 states in Berlin on June 20.

Interior Minister Nancy Faeser said during a meeting of regional interior ministers the same day that "concrete negotiations" are under way and that she was "confident" a way would be found to deport Afghan or Syrian immigrants convicted of serious crimes.

Faeser said the measures would only affect a small number of people, and that in the case of Afghan nationals deportations could be conducted via third countries such as Uzbekistan.

Ahead of the meetings, which came on World Refugee Day, more than 300 organizations issued an open letter to Scholz in which they sharply criticized the initiative.

"Please issue a clear rejection of plans to outsource asylum procedures," said the letter, whose signatories included Amnesty International Germany, Doctors Without Borders, and the German migrant advocacy group Pro Asyl.

"Plans to deport refugees to non-European third countries or to carry out asylum procedures outside the EU...do not work in practice, are extremely expensive, and pose a threat to the rule of law."

The signatories argued such measures would result in serious human rights abuses and integrating asylum seekers into society can succeed with greater cooperation.

The backlash against refugees has risen among conservative and hard-right politicians after a 25-year-old Afghan was accused of stabbing a German police officer to death late last month.

Germany halted deportations to Afghanistan after the Taliban seized power in Kabul in August 2021, and Berlin has no diplomatic ties with the de-facto government formed by the hard-line Islamist leaders.

Germany is also a major destination for Syrians seeking to escape that country's civil war and rule under leader Bashar al-Assad. Syrians are the largest refugee group in Germany, with hundreds of thousands allowed into the country since 2015.

The security and human rights situations in both Afghanistan and Syria are considered dire by watchdogs.

Scholz has previously backed dropping Germany's ban on deportations, however. On June 19 his vice chancellor, Robert Habeck, voiced his support for deportations at least in situations where individuals were suspected of terrorism or convicted of serious crimes like murder.

Proponents of the idea are reportedly considering whether it might be possible to conduct such deportations through third countries such as Uzbekistan while still staying in compliance with international law.

Faeser told the Neue Osnabrucker newspaper that negotiations have taken place with "various countries" and "we want to consistently expel and deport Islamist threats."

The Interior Ministry is also reportedly seeking ways of conducting asylum proceedings in third countries outside the European Union, similar to plans by Italy with Albania. The United Kingdom's deal to send asylum seekers to Rwanda has also been cited by advocates as an example.

Michael Stuebgen, the interior minister of the eastern state of Brandenburg, has argued Germany could engage in talks with the Taliban and that parts of Syria are secure enough to allow the returns of refugees.

Opponents have argued that deportations of Afghans and Syrian refugees would go against the German constitution and commitments under international law and that the outsourcing of asylum procedures would violate asylum-seekers' human rights.

During their three days of talks that end on June 21, the state interior ministers are also reportedly considering cutting welfare benefits paid to Ukrainian refugees.

With reporting by dpa and AP

Adviser To Iranian Presidential Candidate Praised After Storming Off TV Set

A frustrated Mohammad Fazeli (front left) tore off his microphone and threw it after a heated exchange with a state TV panelist on June 19.
A frustrated Mohammad Fazeli (front left) tore off his microphone and threw it after a heated exchange with a state TV panelist on June 19.

Supporters of Iranian reformist presidential candidate Masud Pezeshkian have praised his adviser Mohammad Fazeli for storming off the set of a live televised discussion program after a fiery exchange with a hard-line pundit.

Iran's state-run broadcaster IRIB has been holding televised roundtables as part of its election programming where candidates appear on set accompanied by two advisers to face a three-person panel of experts picked by the IRIB.

Fazeli appeared in the studio on June 19 as one of Pezeshkian’s two advisers on cultural issues, where he found himself on the receiving end of stinging remarks by Shahab Esfandiari, a panelist and the head of IRIB University.

Iranian Adviser Causes Scene On State TV
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Iranian Adviser Causes Scene On State TV

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In 2021, Fazeli was among a slew of professors and lecturers who were forced out of universities during the early months of the late President Ebrahim Raisi's tenure in office.

Between 2013 and 2017, during the first term of moderate President Hassan Rouhani, Fazeli served as a deputy energy minister and later served as an adviser to the ministry.

Esfandiari, who is said to be close to hard-line candidate Saeed Jalili, accused Fazeli of "violating" his contract with the prestigious Shahid Beheshti University when he took positions in the government.

He also charged that Fazeli had "made a scene in the media" after being fired from the university and accused him of "damaging the image of higher education."

Fazeli insisted he had been cleared by the university to work in the government and maintained that Esfandiari was "lying."

The exchange quickly spiraled, with Esfandiari cutting in as Fazeli tried to speak. At one point, Pezeshkian jumped in, telling Esfandiari to "let him [Fazeli] speak."

Having lost control of the situation, the moderator, Jafar Khosravi, cut off Esfandiari and Fazeli's microphones. Fazeli proceeded to leave his seat, unhook his microphone, and throw it down before walking off the set.

A video later emerged showing a large group of Pezeshkian's supporters who had gathered in a conference hall at Tehran's Milad Tower to watch a livestream of the debate break into applause when Fazeli stormed off.

On social media, supporters of Pezeshkian criticized the state broadcaster for not allowing Fazeli to respond to Esfandiari's comments and accused the hard-line panelist of settling personal scores on live television.

Conservatives, however, argued that the incident provided a glimpse into what a Pezeshkian administration would look like.

Written by Kian Sharifi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda

Major Storm Kills 2 People In Moscow

People take shelter from hurricane-force winds and pounding rain that swept Moscow on June 20.
People take shelter from hurricane-force winds and pounding rain that swept Moscow on June 20.

A severe storm hit Moscow on June 20, killing two people and injuring nine as hurricane-force winds and pounding rain swept across the city. Emergency officials said one person was killed by a tree that fell during the storm, while another person died after falling when the scaffolding they were on collapsed. Video circulating on the Internet showed falling billboards, trees, and other materials being whipped around by strong winds as heavy rains drenched the capital. Some videos appeared to show the formation of tornados. Officials said around 23 trees were uprooted and eight vehicles damaged in Moscow. One person was injured in a surrounding region where the storm felled some 200 trees, they added. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

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